The 2008 Louis Agassiz Medal is awarded to Johannes Oerlemans for his outstanding contribution to the study of the relations between ice masses and climate, combining innovative modelling with field experiments.
The research of Hans Oerlemans, which spans more than three decades, has contributed significantly to enhancing the understanding of the interactions between the cryosphere, climate, and sea level. Oerlemans’ work is characterised by its “spirit of quantification” recognizing that simple models can be valuable tools in studying particular phenomena. His early research pioneered development of prognostic numerical ice-sheet models to investigate glacial cycles and internal oscillations of paleo ice sheets and his textbook “Ice Sheets and Climate” published in 1984 is considered to be the first comprehensive quantitative discussion of modelling ice sheets as active parts of the climate system. He has combined extensive modelling studies with fieldwork in the Alps and the polar regions, and in instrument development with rugged automatic weather stations.
Understanding the relation between ice sheets and glaciers and climate has formed a central part of his research resulting in a number of seminal papers (mostly published in Nature and Science) and a second textbook, “Glaciers and Climate Change” published in 2001. This combination of high productivity and original scholarship has identified him as the foremost expert on the role of the cryosphere in global climate reflected by, for example, his contribution as a lead author on the first three IPCC Assessment Reports, as well as the 2005 Arctic Climate Impact Assessment.
Throughout his career, Hans Oerlemans has proven to be an energetic and inspirational teacher, with a number of his former PhD students becoming highly successful glaciologists themselves. The series of Karthaus Summer Schools that provide PhD and junior scientists with a basic introduction to ice dynamics, initiated by Oerlemans, is particularly noteworthy. The quality of his work has been recognized by a number of awards, the most recent being his appointment as Academy Professor by the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. The breadth and depth of his interests makes him a fitting recipient of an award named after Louis Agassiz.